Cooking In Bulk For Your Family Review – Does it Work?

5 out of 5 leaves

5 out of 5 leaves

“What’s for dinner?” is the question on the whole family’s mind shortly after lunch is finished.  It can be difficult to figure out what to make for dinner for a busy mama, especially one who values the importance of a home cooked meal.  What if a wholesome dinner was already prepared, and all you needed to do was warm it up?  Is making dinner in large batches for later final preparation worth it?

The Good

  • Better for you – if a wholesome dinner is already prepared, you are much more likely to eat a wholesome dinner tonight
  • Saves money – ingredients can be bought in bulk, and special splurges justified when spread over multiple meals
  • Saves time – a little extra prep up front saves you loads of preparation time in the late afternoon
  • Easy Meal Planning – if half of the weeks meals are already prepared, meal planning is a cinch!

The Bad

  • Cooking in bulk takes some up front planning and a little extra prep work

My Experience

One lasagna for dinner (plus leftovers), one for my freezer: Four meals for the prep time of one!

It’s hard to be a working mama! After getting up early and working in the office all day, you make it through the evening commute only to get home and start your real job!  Kids need attention (husband too!), and everyone immediately wants to know what’s for dinner.  One of the best tricks I’ve found to maintaining sanity through the early evening hours is to cook large batches of a meal, so some can be eaten today, and some can be set aside for another night’s meal.  The concept is pretty simple: whatever you are making for dinner, make a large batch.  Make two or three times what your family will eat.  It doesn’t take much extra time up front and will save significant preparation time later.

Take lasagna for example: it takes a long time to simmer the sauce, boil noodles, shred cheese, and build the layers.  But it doesn’t take any extra time to simmer extra sauce, extra noodles, and only a little time to shred extra cheese, or build a few extra layers in another pan.  Because I make my own sauce from scratch, it can easily take three hours to put together a full lasagna.  It may take an additional 10 minutes to build a second pan.  Each pan of lasagna I make is enough to feed my family two meals.  So, by making four meals of lasagna at the same time, I’m saving myself 8 1/2 hours of time in the kitchen!  And I’m still feeding my family delicious, wholesome, home made food!

Another bonus here is the monetary savings.  When planning for making a big meal, you can buy in greater quantities, or get the value sizes of the ingredients.  It totally makes sense for me to buy the two pound brick of cheddar at Costco if I know I’ll be making two giant pans of baked mac and cheese with it.  If I was only making enough for one dinner, I would probably have bought the small pack of shredded instead, for about 4x the price (oz for oz).  There is some serious money to be saved, and I’m sure you couponers could do even better than me!

A glorious pan of macaroni and cheese completes the main dish for two or three meals for our small family. Is your family bigger? Just make more!

Are you thinking about how much you hate leftovers?  Never fear!  The food that remains isn’t left over – it’s more of a planned save!  If you think about what’s left in the pot or pan as a pre-planned meal for your family, it becomes a saving grace, rather than a molding burden in your fridge.  The trick is that you have to plan to use it in a later date.  Whether you include it your weekly meal planning, or pack it up to store in your freezer, the time you spent making dinner tonight becomes an investment for your family.

Overall, large batch cooking has worked very well for me, and I highly recommend it.  I find that casseroles, and main dishes tend to be the best investment in time.  Other good ideas are to pre-prep meats that need to bake in the oven for a while (while you play with the kids, or weed the garden perhaps?).  Some of my favorite meals to make in large batches are lasagna, macaroni and cheese, chicken and rice casserole, jambalaya, quesadillas, pizza casserole, chili, other soups and stews, prosciutto wrapped chicken packets, and the list goes on.  I enjoy the extra time I have to spend with my family, and doing things I enjoy while dinner gently warms in the oven.  It’s well worth the up front investment to me!

Have you ever tried large batch cooking?  What is your favorite to make in bulk?

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34 Responses to Cooking In Bulk For Your Family Review – Does it Work?

  1. Carol says:

    Lasagne is the easiest and best at being kept in the freezer when cooking in bulk. Another one you might like to try is curry, with or without the rice. I have found curry made with coconut milk freezes better than curry made with dairy based sauces. I also make a little extra curry sauce when freezing curry, so that it covers the meat and veggies more and prevents freezer burn.

    Veggies in curries that freeze better than others: potato, sweet potato and carrot freeze better than green veggies like beans or capsicum.

    • Victoria says:

      Thanks for the ideas Carol! I was just getting into making curry when I got pregnant with my second one, and then couldn’t stand the smell for months. I think it’s time to get curries back into our meal plan again!

  2. I love being able to freeze meals. Definitely buy cheese in bulk – it is so costly otherwise!

  3. Shannon says:

    I would love to do this, but I have a hard time finding freezer recipes that are dairy/gluten free besides soup soup and more soup. I can see that it would save so much time, plus I don’t really love to cook!

    • Shannon, you might try just freezing parts of your meals. I do this a lot with meats. I think it saves a lot of time because the meat usually takes the longest to cook. When I cook and freeze it ahead of time, all I have to do is defrost and reheat the meat when I’m cooking my side vegetables.

  4. I love bulk cooking! I hate random leftovers but I love planned saves, as you call them. 🙂 I don’t often cook whole meals (well, other than soup), but I cook a lot of meat ahead of time so it’s easy to just defrost and reheat. We eat a lot of simple meat plus vegetables meals and I prefer my vegetables freshly cooked, but cooking the meat ahead of time saves a lot of time. Meats that I’ve found work well for this are Swedish meatballs, beef roast, and spiced ground beef for taco salad or pasta sauce.

    Oh, and I always buy the 2 pound block of cheese from Costco for just everyday cooking. It never goes bad before we can finish it. It’s just the two of us here, so I guess we must eat a lot of cheese!

    • Victoria says:

      Meghan, what kind of meat do you freeze, and how do you reheat without drying it out?

      • I freeze a lot of ground meat like this:

        The meat usually either gets added to a pasta sauce or I just gently reheat it on its own in a frying pan.

        I also will cook a roast and then freeze the leftovers in meal-sized containers. I reheat them in a saucepan.

        I also cook and freeze Swedish meatballs. I also reheat those just in a frying pan. Sometimes I add some broth and boil it down so it makes a kind of sauce on the meatballs.

        I’ve never noticed any of these methods drying out the meat, but I don’t know that I’m all that picky.

  5. I freeze soups, soup stock, tomato sauce (from the garden), pizza sauce, stews and chili. I also cook up large batches of ground meat with grated carrots, zucchini, onion and garlic and freeze in small bags – then it is easy to pull them out to add to spaghetti sauce or lasagna. I also cook some up ahead of time as taco meat and sloppy joe meat, then all I have to do is defrost it for quick dinners on nights when we have to take the kids to sports.

  6. Joan says:

    It does work for me. I always make a large batch of spaghetti sauce, put in canning jars and then the freezer. You can then have a quick spaghetti dinner, use for pizza topping, or topping a baked potato. I also make a large batch of cooked ground turkey, add taco seasoning and pinto beans. Freezes very well. Use for tacos, enchiladas, tostadas, salads.
    I am all for quick and easy. 🙂

  7. I just started bulk cooking in earnest, but I’ve dabbled in it for a little over a year. I’m looking forward to trying more dinner meals in the next few months.

  8. 'Becca says:

    I’m a big fan both of bulk cooking or “planned leftovers” and of bulk prep of ingredients. My family doesn’t eat meat other than fish, but we’ve been saving a lot of time and effort by using our food processor to make single-recipe bags of shredded or sliced vegetables, fruits, or cheese and freezing those. We also buy beans in the jumbo can, use some in a recipe, and freeze the rest. When I plan the menu, I thaw ingredients we’re going to need, but some things (like kale) can be used on a whim without thawing.

    We have only the small freezer above the fridge, so we can’t freeze lots of meals. Mostly we plan to eat leftovers 2 or 3 days later, or we pack them into single-serving Pyrex for lunches at work.

    You didn’t really discuss the “green” aspects of this idea much. It’s a mix: You save energy on cooking (especially baking; you can fill the oven and use no more energy than if you were baking just one pan) and you prevent food waste, but you use energy keeping things frozen and you may be using more packaging than you would if you ate the food freshly made, depending on how you pack it for the freezer.

    • Victoria says:

      Oh Becca! You’re right – I didn’t hit the better for the earth points this time. Thanks for helping me fill in the gaps 🙂

  9. Sarah C says:

    I do the same thing because I too work fulltime and commute, etc.

    One little tip is that you don’t have to bake your lasagna noodles. When I found this out, I swear it blew my mind. I use organic spelt noodles and they are just perfect when placed in the pan hard. The bonus is that it’s easier to spread the ricotta and stuff on hard noodles!

    • Victoria says:

      Thanks for the noodle tip Sarah! I’ve tried the dry noodles in my lasagna, and noticed they were a lot firmer than I prefer. But my sauce is pretty thick, and probably doesn’t have a lot of water to give up to the noodles. I’m sure it would work fine with a wetter sauce.

      • 'Becca says:

        The trick I learned from my mom is to mix water into the cheese filling–about 3/4 cup for a typical pan of lasagna–and cover the pan with foil for most of the baking time. I have tried this both with regular lasagna noodles and with the dry ones that say “no boiling necessary” on the package, and they come out about the same!

        • Victoria says:

          Adding water- what a great idea for folks with thick sauce like mine! Thanks Becca!

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  11. Becky says:

    This is definitely on our list of ways to live more frugally in the fall. We have a tough time doing this with a side by side fridge/freezer, but if we can clear out our basement this summer then we may be able to get a dedicated freezer for down there. Thanks for sharing your ideas!

    • Victoria says:

      Hi Becky, I’m not sure how big your family is, but I only have the typical top and bottom fridge. Just like you, I would LOVE to get an extra freezer for the garage so I could really stock up.

  12. Jen says:

    Hey Victoria,
    I love your blog, Any chance you can share your best lasagna or mac and cheese freezer meal recipe?
    Jen (Pierce) Carrick

    • Victoria says:

      Hi Jen! Thanks for reading! My favorite lasagna is The World’s Best Lasagna from Our favorite mac and cheese (and the only kind my husband will eat) is an old family recipe from his great-grandmother. I’ll have to ask permission before I can share 🙂

  13. April Harris says:

    I really enjoyed your post. I find cooking in bulk to be a wonderful time and money saver. Thank you for sharing your experience.

  14. Amber says:

    It’s just 3 of here, and most recipes make 4-6 servings. Usually if it’s just an extra one, someone gets lunch. If it’s 3, we freeze any and everything. Rice Ball Casserole, Creamy Caprese Pasta, ravioli bakes, pasta bakes, “slop”, soups, taco meat-whatever we have extra gets popped in the freezers. If it doesn’t turn out, we live and learn.

    I have to ask-WHERE is that mac & cheese recipe?? Looks delicious!

    • Victoria says:

      The Mac and cheese recipe is a family recipe from my husband’s grandmother. It’s the only kind he’ll eat. If I ever get permission to share, I will!!

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  16. Hi Victoria,

    Visiting from Frugal Friday. Great way to put a positive spin on leftovers as a planned new meal.


  17. Marilyn Culverson says:

    I have always worked with 3 kids and frequently a foster child or two. Bulk cooking has always been necessary.. I would make 5 meat loaves at one time, 10 lbs of hamburger into baked meatballs, 10lbs of hamburger patties frozen uncooked on cookie trays. Crock pot soups and stews, large crockpots of spaghetti, and pans of lasagna. Putting frozen food in an oven on a slow cook on time bake meant supper was ready when I walked in the door. There are recipes on the internet for refrigerator cole slaw that lasts almost forever..pickled with a vinegar, salt, sugar mix. Large bags of salad greens and dinner is almost ready. Sandwiches were made once a month. and individual bags and placed back in the sandwich bags. I would buy 4 different breads, make up different fillings..salmon, tuna even cooked egg mixed with dehydrated onion mixed with cream cheese and a bit of mayo and pickle. Meat and cheeses…When my kids were little I put 1/4 sections of different types in their lunch. Much more likely to eat if each piece was different. Breakfasts were a breeze. Homemade pancakes frozen on trays, same with waffles and french toast. Scrambled egg, ham and cheese on biscuits/ buns freeze well. Quick cooking oatmeal mixed with powdered milk, cinnamon, brown sugar, dried ground up apple make for nutritious easy breakfasts. Simply mix equal parts water or as I prefer milk and a pat of butter gives a hot delicious and inexpensive breakfast. Even fairly young children can heat these themselves if necessary. There are lots of slice and bake cookie recipes on the internet. I use to make up 4 recipes ( each making 4 rolls of cookies, each roll would make 3-4 dozen cookies) of 6 different kinds…. Every time my oven was on a tray of cookies went in the oven. Crepes made up in bulk while watching tv and frozen in batches to feed us, made for sneaky use of leftovers. Anything hidden in a crepe with a bit of cream soup spooned into the filling and sprinkled on top with cheese looks great in individual crepe dishes. Side salad and you are set! Brownies, rice crispie squares and most bars can be made in double batches ans individually frozen for lunches and desserts. Par cook anything on the grill when the barbeque is on. A smokey hamburger or hot dog,or chops etc taste wonderful in the winter or when rushed. Twice baked potatoes made in large amounts and frozen reheat quickly and add a nice touch to a simple meal. I love to cook but on a meager budget and limited time, I had to come up with time savers to feed my family well!

  18. Jutta says:

    It seems that bulk cooking is the best way I have found to get hubby to eat healthy continuously. I cook primarily vegetable soups, such as lentil soup, bean soup, something I call ‘straight through the garden’, etc. And then I freeze most of it, except for maybe 2 or 3 meals. My husband, who is retired thaws them and feels taken care of. I worry less, because he eats much less prepared food this way. And it’s a great deal cheaper. Here in California, groceries are not cheap. Each pot of soup usually runs around $40.00, but makes an average of 10 meals.
    Win, win.

  19. B says:

    Doesn’t work so well for us… whenever I make extra portions, we just stuff our faces until they’re gone ^.^;;

  20. unfortunately, it has never worked for us – whenever i serve something out of the freezer that i cooked in advance, everybody will comment at once that it just isn‘t the same – even if they just returned home and didn‘t even see that i had taken it out of the freezer!

    so what i do instead is plan meals for the week that use many of the same ingredients, so i can cook two or more dishes at the same time – using different kinds of meat, a few different ingredients here and there, and then serve with different side dishes (rice, potatoes, noodles, bread…)